By RON HIGGINS, Journal Sports
BATON ROUGE – Suffice to say, LSU’s history of great placekickers starting in Shreveport in the late 1950s with Fair Park’s Tommy Davis has never included someone who learned how to kick by watching videos.
Sophomore Damian Ramos, who returns for his second season as LSU’s starting kicker after walking on in 2021 as a virtual unknown, taught himself as a youngster in Baltimore how to kick watching YouTube videos.
“In little league football, they lined up the whole team to kick and I was really the only one that could make an extra point kick,” said Ramos, who hit 10 of 14 field goals and 55 of 57 point-after kicks as an All-SEC freshman team honoree last season. “I just kicked straight on with my toe. I never played soccer in my life.
“We had a son of an ex-NFL kicker (Matt Stover) join my team. I beat him in the first competition. In the second one two weeks later, I hurt my quad. My dad and my brother were like, `If you want to get the spot back you should learn the actual (correct) way of kicking.’
“So, I looked on YouTube and watched just about every single video I could find.”
Ramos soon focused on Baltimore Ravens placekicker Justin Tucker, who’s now starting his 13th pro season as owner of the NFL’s career-made field goal percentage record of 90.5 percent.
“I wouldn’t say my form is exactly like his form, but I think I have a similar form to him,” Ramos said of Tucker. “I watched a lot of him because he’s really good.”
The more Ramos practiced, the more he was hooked on perfection.
“During the day and at night, I started kicking into a lacrosse net in my basement,” Ramos said. “I’d go outside and practice year-round in all conditions. I’d even kick in the snow during the winter.
“I just really got obsessed with kicking further and further and better and better. The more I backed up, the more I always tried to record myself to see what I did wrong and try to improve. That’s really how it started.”
It could have ended from the sheer discouragement of a high school career at St. Paul’s in Baltimore filled with roadblocks.
“My first three years (at St. Paul’s), I had a coach who didn’t like kicking field goals,” Ramos said. “He wasn’t about it. In my senior year (in 2020), I had a new coach come in, and he was about kicking field goals. But COVID hit and we only played three or four games. I made a couple of field goals.”
What kept Ramos believing in himself was his performances at national and regional kicking camps where he won field goal and kickoff competitions.
The only recommendation on his resume entering his senior season came from Chris Sailer, director of the Chris Sailer Kicking Camps.
“Damian is a fantastic high school kicking prospect,” Sailer wrote on his website. “He has a strong leg and kicks with excellent technique and consistency. His field goals are outstanding. He hits a clean ball off the ground and easily has 55+ range. His kickoffs are strong, D1 Ready. He is a great competitor that thrives under pressure. All the tools are there to take his game to the next level.”
Ramos tried to market his talents through social media. But even with his self-promotion and a sparkling rating from Sailer, Ramos’ only scholarship offer was from Sacred Heart, a private Connecticut university in Fairfield with an FCS (formerly known as NCAA Division 1-AA) football program.
“I got to the point where I know I can play at a big school but it’s really hard for them to find me,’ Ramos said. “I thought was maybe if I apply to these schools and if they accept me, maybe it’s a possibility that I could go to the school, walk on and make the team.”
Ironically, Ramos kept getting prospective student enrollment e-mails from Jose Aviles, then LSU’s vice-president for enrollment management who’s now vice provost for enrollment management at Temple University.
“He (Aviles) sent me an e-mail that I still have to this day,” Ramos said. “I sent him a really well-written email. I wanted to go to LSU, but a big part of my decision was football. I put some information on there.
“He didn’t respond back. He just sent the information over to the football office. A couple of days later, I got a call from LSU. It was one of the coaches. That’s how I really got started.”
Ramos spent his first season at LSU in 2021 as a redshirt walk-on watching York finish a fabulous career, then won the job and a scholarship last season.
Despite a breakeven college debut when he scored five points vs. Florida State but had a field goal and a game-tying extra point blocked because of kick protection blocking breakdowns, Ramos now has the unquestioned endorsement of head coach Brian Kelly.
“I’ve definitely gotten a lot stronger since I’ve been here,” Ramos said. “When I first came in 2021, I was around like 160 and now I’m weighing 188. So, I’ve definitely got a lot stronger. I’m able to hit my better ball a lot more consistently.
“My kicking is very, very mental. I’ve really grown on routines and habits. I’ve always said that consistent routines lead to consistent performances. It’s worked for me.” Contact Ron at email@example.com